At Raymond James & Associates, Greg Spears is the ergonomic fix it guy for associates and advisors throughout the advisory firm. For the past four years, the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based ergonomics and safety specialist has assessed if reps are working smartly—or not—by examining their workstations and the tools they use before injuries hit. His take? Better to focus now than wait for injuries to hit.
"You need to invest in your people," says Spears, who got his training in the U.S. Navy, where an out-of-commission sailor on a ship is not easily replaceable. "You can reduce medical costs by incorporating just one incentive."
Keyboards, and how you hold your hands, are often a big focus of office comfort. And as use of mobile devices grows, tech giants are paying attention. Microsoft’s latest version of its Surface tablet, the Pro 3, now allows its cover to snap back at a friendlier angle for typing. That’s not a small concern. Laptops, tablets and other portable devices can definitely be a contributor to injuries for a variety of reasons, says Dr. Martin G. Cherniack, director of the Ergonomic Technology Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center.
"Portables are harder to work with because you can't control the height of the screen," he says. "They also have an abbreviated keyboard and you can't change the position very much."
Eliminating the keyboard altogether is one direction some are taking, employing voice-to-text software programs — particularly among some workers who have returned from injuries and surgery. As these technologies have gotten better at picking up on variations of human speech, their accuracy has improved dramatically, as has their popularity.
"It can take a little but of getting used to, but I fully support it," Raymond James' Spears says. "But then you have people who have had surgery for carpal tunnel and are supposed to use the keyboard to stretch their tendons. So everything has to be considered on a case-by-case basis."
Smart buds, ear buds that eliminate the cord, and frustration, of being tethered to a device or a desk, are also appearing from developers including Intel and start-up Bragi. The latter is offering pre-orders for its product Dash, ear buds that cling inside the ear, and will use a Bluetooth-connected microphone to pick up on vibrations from your ear bone, and allow you to make calls, listen to music and even track your heart rate as you move through a stressful, or hopefully stress free, day.
And of course high on the list of many workers are stand-up desks that can be raised to get you off your chair, and back on your feet. They’re considered ideal for those with back concerns—and those looking to prevent them. Spears has installed 27 of these recently, with more requests in 2014 than in the year prior. Not a favorite of his however? Those treadmill desks that some are using to sneak some gym time into their workday. To Spears, that level of multi-tasking is not ideal.
"Some of the research coming out shows that productivity on those individuals is actually receding," he says. "They have accidents on them. I am not totally on board with that.”